The Text: Galatians 4:4-7
Time is one of the world’s deepest mysteries. The ability to measure it makes our way of life possible; the ability to use it properly makes our life fulfilling or frustrating. God has given each of us the same amount of time, and holds us accountable for our use of it.
Our use of time reveals our attitude to eternity. Musicians mark time, historians record time, prisoners serve time, loafers kill time. In the Bible, time isn’t money; time is given so we can love God and our neighbour. God has His own timetable for important events. Our Creator walks with us at our pace.
A long time passed from when God promised Abraham that Jesus would be sent to our world, to the time of His birth. God educated the Jews during a period of 40 years wandering in the desert. Approximately another 1400 years of additional education and preparation passed before the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
God works slowly, because God is love. Love has its own pace, and cannot be hurried. Love focuses on time as a quality, rather than on time as quantity. More important than how long we live, is how well we live. What we love to do, we find time to do. Time has been given to us to prepare for eternity. As we use it, so shall we be. Our constant danger in life lies in letting things we think are urgent, crowd out the things that are really important as far as God is concerned.
We show our love for God by the time we set aside to be in His presence. There is no greater gift we can give someone than the gift of our time. We are to ‘redeem the time’, because we ourselves are redeemed. The greatest story of all time is the story of God’s love in Christ, a love that reaches its climax at Christmas. Nothing matches this story for beauty, for love and for care. When our ancestors wandered away from God, God didn’t give up on them or stop caring about them. Humans may have failed God repeatedly, but God didn’t fail them.
Jesus came at the best time possible for the reception and rapid spread of His mission and message. All the Mediterranean Sea was united under Rome with free access over the whole area, via a superb road and communications network. There was one common language – Greek – an admirable medium for the Gospel’s transmission. People keenly felt the bankruptcy of paganism and the failure of pagan religions to offer real help and hope to ordinary folk. A network of Jewish synagogues existed throughout the Roman Empire that were attracting a growing interest by people disillusioned with the lack of high moral standards. Jewish expectations of a deliverer, of a liberator from Roman occupation and oppression, were at their highest pitch. Above all, there were the faithful folk like Simeon and Anna who were praying daily for a Saviour to appear.
After nine months of waiting by His mother Mary, the same amount of time most mothers have to wait, Jesus was born of a woman, as we all have been. Jesus’ birth marked the all-important turning-point in the story of God and human beings. His coming is the heart and centre of human history. It gives meaning to all that happened before, and to the lives of human beings ever since. Christ’s appearance on the scene of human history made the world seem young and fresh again, as He gave a new start in life to all who followed Him. By filling time with love and hope, Jesus Christ gave time new meaning and purpose. The Church Year, which is different from the secular calendar, seeks to give expression to the difference Jesus makes to our lives by each year celebrating the events from before His birth to His ascension. We march to a different drum, we live by a different timetable, from that of the world.
Christmas and Easter are important to Christians for different reasons than for those who don’t know Jesus personally. “Now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! (2 Corinthians 6:2b).” Christians don’t need to engage in nostalgia for the “good old days”, because they believe the best is yet to come. We believe with St. Paul: “For me to live is Christ, and if I die, I will gain even more.” Christ’s birth of Mary was a guarantee of His humanity, which He’s proud to share with us. The essence of Christmas is our Saviour’s complete identification with us.
“Born under the law” means Jesus submitted to the laws of His people. From the time of His circumcision onwards, He observed the religious practices of His day. Every Sabbath He went to a synagogue, and He diligently kept the religious festivals of His nation. He especially kept the First Commandment perfectly for us, so that He could offer us His perfect obedience in the place of our disobedience. Jesus kept the law for us, to redeem us from the curse of the law.
Jesus shared with us the laws and limitations of human growth. Within these limitations, He lived a full human existence with dignity and distinction. Our Lord became what we are, in order to make us what He is. He involved Himself in life’s great celebrations, like the wedding of Cana, as well as its tragedies. As a baby, Jesus was born to a young woman whose heart agonised at the oppression of her people. As a child, our Lord walked streets occupied by foreign troops. As a teenager, He had parents who didn’t understand His life’s calling and mission. As a carpenter, He understood the difficulty of getting paid for work done, and of sharing in the financial burdens of his family. No doubt the tax-man would have come regularly, seeking exorbitant taxes for a foreign colonial power. As leader of a new community of twelve men, Jesus was pained by their slowness to understand His mission and His message. He felt the rising tide of hostility towards Himself and His work.
But no price was too high to pay to redeem us from the curse of the law. “Redemption” is a wonderful word. It means “to buy back”, “to re-possess”. It means “emancipation”. Christmas marked the beginning of buying us back from our state of alienation and estrangement from God. “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18).” We were ransomed and redeemed so that we might be adopted into God’s family with full rights as His children. “You are not your own. For you were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19).”
Christ has claimed us as His own. We belong to Him. He challenges us to live as His people in today’s world. Our bodies, our time and our possessions aren’t our own to use as we please. We use these good gifts from God in a way that pleases our Lord. Psalm 90 prays: “Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom.”
The good news of Christmas is that you can live as if today is the first day of your life, as you prepare for that day when time will give way to eternity. Today we thank God for eternity’s great gift of time, and His gift of our Saviour to us in the fullness of time, at the right time.